Times Theater Writer

Some battles never die, they just rage on, which is what seems to be happening with the Actors' Equity/Tiffany Theatre squabble.

Despite renewed pleas from Tiffany owner Paula Holt and a petition from the cast of "Fatty" (a new play by Harry Essex scheduled to start previews at the Tiffany on Aug. 15), the actors' union has steadfastly refused to reconsider its denial of Waiver status to the two 99-seat theaters housed in the Tiffany structure on Sunset Boulevard.

Equity has argued that the building had been a 280-seat movie theater and that its rules forbid the creation of Waiver theaters in spaces that once were capable of accommodating more than 99 seats.

Holt and the "Fatty" company countered that a movie house and a legitimate theater are different animals. A May 28 letter from architect John Sergio Fisher (who did the Tiffany remodel) to Equity Western Regional Director Edward Weston, outlined the reasons why construction of a single, larger house was unfeasible.

None of it has cut any ice. Equity insists that if "Fatty" wants to go on at the Tiffany, it must sign a contract and pay its 21 actors a minimal wage--or it may move to one of 130 union-approved Waiver houses and pay no wages.

The "Fatty" company threw a cocktail party at the Tiffany last Thursday to share its views with the Equity membership at large and took out half-page ads in trade papers to publicize it. However, a meeting Monday between the "Fatty" company and Equity's Western advisory board resulted only in each faction holding fast and in one cast member--Nita Talbot--being out of the company. What happens next?

"My set is up," said "Fatty" producer Hal Grossman, who raised $35,000 for the production starring Art Metrano as Fatty Arbuckle and featuring Joey Bishop. "All the designs were made for this theater. We're going ahead."

What will Equity do?

"I'm not going to get into that now," Weston said Tuesday. "I don't want to anticipate any outcome. It's a matter between us and our members and it's already been blown all out of proportion in the press."

As for the Talbot affair, Grossman insisted: "She quit. She said she had to be paid. She left me no alternative but to replace her."

"I didn't quit," Talbot said Tuesday. "I attended the Equity board meeting and saw their side of it. All I wanted them (the "Fatty" company) to do was consider a contract with which the production could live. The next thing I knew, there was talk of replacing me. Boy, this is like 'Rashomon'! . . . "

"Nita is out of the show," confirmed Joey Bishop, who serves as Equity deputy (or representative of the union) for the company--even though a Waiver company doesn't require one. "You don't go to an Equity meeting as part of us and then become part of them. "

So for the moment it appears that "Fatty" will open at the Tiffany--with or without Equity's blessing and with or without Talbot.

Grossman/Holt bristle at the suggestion that, if they can afford to throw advertised cocktail parties, they might as well spend some of the money on actor salaries.

"The cast wanted to rally the support of the membership," Grossman said. "I'm doing an Equity Waiver production. That's how I have it with my investors. I can't change it. That's the law. They know that in Equity Waiver the actors don't get paid."

Said Holt, who, down the road, could be staring at two hard-to-sell 99-seat theaters: "I'm considering a number of alternatives, one of which is litigation."

DEAD FILE: For a minute and a half, there was talk of bringing the Charlton Heston "Caine Mutiny Court-Martial" (a success in London) to the Ahmanson, but Ahmanson artistic director Robert Fryer confirmed Wednesday that it won't--repeat, won't --happen.

CALLBOARD: Lucie Arnaz fans, on the other hand, will be able to see her when she replaces Sandy Duncan in "My One and Only" for a final week of performances at the Ahmanson starting Sept. 17. This, at least, guarantees the show will stay in town until Sept. 22.

--The original cast album of "Big River," words and music by Roger Miller, will be made by MCA Records. This La Jolla Playhouse show made it to Broadway, you'll recall, where it won seven Tonys.

--The American premiere of "Ladies in Waiting," a new play on women's suffrage by Canadian playwright Ellen Fox, will open at the Fig Tree Sept. 12. Sherry Landrum directs.

--"Portrait of Michael," a new lesbian drama by Phyllis Upton comes to the Attic Sept. 6.

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